Three good stream floats for smallmouth bass in the Bluegrass

Sharing is Caring!

FRANKFORT – Fishing for many species slows in the daytime hours during the heat of summer, but smallmouth bass who inhabit Kentucky streams bite willingly even on the hottest days.

Kentuckians who enjoy canoeing or kayaking are lucky to live in a state with bountiful amounts of cool, flowing water that hold smallmouth bass. It is hard to beat a summer day spent paddling a tree canopied Kentucky stream, navigating stream drops and catching smallmouth after smallmouth.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ webpage at holds a wealth of information about stream paddling. Click on the “Fish” tab, and the “Recreational Fishing” tab on the dropdown menu. Both the “Blue Water Trails” page and the “Stream Fisheries page” may be accessed here. These webpages have oodles of information on access sites, articles describing the floating and fishing, fishing tips and printable maps.

Kentucky anglers who want to catch some feisty stream smallmouth bass this summer should try these three floats.

1. Green River: Roachville Ford to Russell Island, 6.6 miles, Green County:

The Green River offers arguably the best chance in Kentucky to catch a stream smallmouth in excess of 18 inches, with potential for larger fish. 

Releases from Green River Lake Dam dictate the fishing on the Green River below it. The best flows for fishing are from 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 54 cfs, with the 150 cfs level optimal. Check the flows at the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Daily Lake Report webpage at

The flowing deep runs in this float hold fat smallmouth bass. A 4-inch Senko-style soft plastic stick bait in the green pumpkin candy color rigged on a 1/8-ounce leadhead is tough to beat on the Green in summer. Let the lure tumble in the current and occasionally touch bottom and watch the line intently. Green River smallmouths often strike subtly during the warm months.

Fly rod anglers can find great sport throwing bass-sized yellow and black cork poppers in the slack eddies beside current in the Green. This presentation also attracts hefty largemouth bass. 

About halfway through this float, paddlers will notice a bluff rising in the distance when Meadow Creek meets the Green on the right. The mouth of Meadow Creek to the take-out at Russell Island is the best smallmouth bass water on this float.

2. South Fork, Licking River: Lair to Terry Dam Ramp, 5 miles, Harrison County:

This float makes a good day trip with a short shuttle from the Lair Ramp in the historic community of Lair down to the Terry Dam Ramp (also known at the Airport Ramp) via KY 982. Central Fisheries biologists Jeff Crosby and David Baker routinely sample this stream and find many smallmouths from 12 to 15 inches long, with some over 15 inches.

The biologists recommend fishing the areas that transition from pool water into braided stream drops lined with water willow common on this stretch of South Licking. You will find some of this water in the first two miles of this float, again at the about the two-thirds mark at the mouth of Paddy’s Run and in the last stretch of the float before encountering the slack water from Terry Dam downstream.

Probe these areas with 4-inch straight-tailed finesse worms in the Okeechobee craw color rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads. Small, deep running crawfish-imitating crankbaits also work in these spots as do diminutive gold lipless crankbaits.

3. Big South Fork of Cumberland River: Blue Heron to Yamacraw, 5 miles, McCreary County:

This day-long float makes an excellent summer trip through some of Kentucky’s most impressive scenery, with soaring bluffs above the river and house-sized boulders in the streambed.

The section of the Big South Fork from Blue Heron access downstream to the extinct community of Worley, about 2 1/2 miles, holds impressive smallmouth bass. The Big South Fork at normal low summer levels runs air clear, so 6-pound fluorocarbon line is highly recommended for stealth.

Anglers pitch 3-inch white swimbaits rigged weedless on the newer style screw-in, belly-weighted swimbait hooks behind the many boulders on this stretch for smallmouths. Big South Fork smallmouths often lurk under undercut sections of these boulders in summer.

Deep-running crawfish-colored crankbaits draw strikes fished above and below stream drops. Let the lure bang off the many football-sized rocks that line the bottom of the Big South Fork. Summer smallmouths often crush them just after striking the rock.

If all else fails, rig a watermelon-colored 3-inch soft plastic stick bait on a small 1/8-ounce Shakey head and cast it upstream of a riffle. Let the lure sit on bottom and let the current slowly move it while reeling in slack. Finicky Big South Fork smallmouths that ignored everything else will often fall for this presentation. It works fished beside boulders as well.

Get out this summer and enjoy these three great floats for smallmouth bass. Nothing beats the heat like paddling a cool, gorgeous Kentucky stream

– Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

Sharing is Caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *